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National Animal I.D. draws opposition

By Cathy Roemer, Ag Weekly correspondent

April 15, 2006


TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- While many livestock owners agree with the idea of a national animal tracking system, opposition is mounting nationwide against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Identification System.

The Animal Health Protection Act, passed in 2002, gave the agency authority to develop a national animal identification system. But few in the animal agriculture community knew then of the USDA's plan to electronically tag and track every livestock animal in the nation.

But the NAIS is gaining notoriety among livestock owners as states begin to implement the USDA's plan to "trace back" animal disease outbreaks within 48 hours.

 In a news release earlier this month USDA officials said the agency has "engaged in extensive dialogue with producers and industry organizations" since the program's inception. But many livestock owners are just now discovering their acreages, farms and ranches are being assigned premises identification numbers, the first step toward NAIS implementation.

Public awareness of the animal I.D. appears to preclude USDA's own timeline. The NAIS strategic plan lists April 20007 as the target date to "alert livestock owner of the NAIS requirements." The final rules "governing home and animal surveillance" are scheduled to be published in the fall of 2007, followed in 2008 with enforced premises registration and animal identification. In 2009, NAIS becomes mandatory, requiring livestock owners to report "all animal movement."

"People all  across the United States are beginning to wake up" to what NAIS has in store for them, said Livestock owner  Zeb Bell of Murtaugh, Idaho.

 Bell, also a rodeo and equine events announcer, says tracking animal movement is "ludicrous."

 "In one month I may move animals to 35 different locations," he said.

Bell believes the burden and cost of the proposed system could put small livestock operators out of business. In Australia, where animal identification already exists, there are cost estimates of $37 per animal, he said.

Laura Richardson, Deer Lodge, Tenn., agrees. A horse owner and breeder, she says the medical procedure to implant radio frequency "chips" into her horses could cost hundreds of dollars.  Not to mention the cost of equipment like readers and transponders needed to record each time animals commingle, another NAIS requirement.

"We’ll be riding out with pencil, paper and scanners in hand, tracking every movement," she said.

But Lloyd Knight, executive director of the Idaho Cattle Association, said the NAIS is "very important to individual surveillance in the global market."

"The United States is one of the last major beef producers in the world to have animal identification," he said.

Lloyd also said NAIS is still in the draft stage and is open for comment and input.

"Nobody has written in stone exactly what it will look like," he said.

Not knowing what it will look like has Rick Fox, Hermosa, S.D, president of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, very concerned.

Calling NAIS the "biggest fiasco to hit the cattle industry," Fox said there are just "too many unanswered questions."

Fearing cost of the program will be shouldered by producers, Fox said USDA has never done a cost analysis. When asked for details, "they (USDA) shrug their shoulders," he said.

But USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said, "We’ve made significant strides toward achieving a comprehensive U.S. animal identification system.

"We recognize that this represents one of the largest systematic changes ever faced by the livestock industry, and we have welcomed suggestions from stakeholders to ensure that we continue to gain momentum," he said.

Sue Karber, Kingfisher, Okla., took issue with USDA  in an article she wrote on NAIS: "An International Game of Tag.”

 "Lots of acronyms to learn in this global game of tag -- what is yours is now federal property (national herd), not private property," she wrote. "We are now stakeholders not property owners."

Karber said origins of the system are a "complicated mess" but comes down to international laws and trade agreements ruling over the U.S. constitution.

"Simply put, NAIS has nothing to do with food safety but everything to do with giving up our sovereignty," she said. "The USDA is selling this invasive, unconstitutional program as a means to increase international trade by complying with the international mandates in treaties … forcing us to live under international laws even if it means destroying our constitution.”

Looking beyond the producer level, Gerald Marchant, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation beef committee chairman, sees economic potential for some to "start their own business" with  transponders, selling tags or computer data entry.

"We know one thing," Marchant said, "it's (NAIS) coming and if we're not involved, it will be developed without us."

NAIS proposed rules

Animal owners must report within 24 hours:

n     Any missing animal

n     Any missing tag

n     Sale of an animal

n     Death of an animal

n     Slaughter of an animal

n     Movement of an animal off the farm or homestead

n     Movement of an animal on the farm or homestead


NAIS will prohibit any person from:

n     Removing an identification device

n      Causing the removal of an identification device

n      Applying a second identification device, altering an identification device to change its number

n     Altering an identification device to make its number unreadable,

n     Selling or providing an unauthorized identification device

n      Creating a counterfeit identification device



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